BREAKING: Adventist Leaders in Argentina Detained for Allegedly Smuggling Millions in Electronic Goods

Leaders of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Argentina have been detained for allegedly smuggling some $15,000,000 Argentine Pesos ($991,000 USD) worth of goods into the country. A sting operation ordered by federal judge Adrián González Charvay targeted eight locations, apprehending six suspects, including leaders from the Argentina Union Conference.

According to a report in La Nación, Argentina’s leading conservative daily newspaper, crates came into Argentina from the United States said to be containing donated medical equipment and hand tools. Customs authorities instead discovered millions of Pesos worth of modern televisions, computers, tablets, smartphones, professional film equipment, music consoles and drones.

Judge González Charvay, who presided over a two-month investigation of the contraband, ordered an appraisal of the smuggled goods. Experts who examined the containers found expired hospital supplies in poor condition (some used and possibly infectious) along with undeclared electronic merchandise totaling an estimated fifteen million Pesos. The smuggled goods represented a value of some $6,000,000 Pesos ($396,400 USD) in unpaid import fees.

Screen capture from Argentine news broadcast. The headline reads, "raids on the Adventist Church: Donations from the USA Investigated."

On Thursday detectives from the Federal Crimes Department of the Argentine Federal Police conducted eight raids and apprehended six individuals, including as yet unnamed leaders of the Adventist Church in Argentina. The Argentina Union Conference of Seventh-day Adventists was the named recipient of the shipment, according to media reports.

Spectrum received an anonymous tip on August 10 about the Adventist Church’s involvement in international smuggling. An email from uapleaks@gmail.com, signed by “John Doe” provided the following:

Dear Mr. Wright,

I am writing to you regarding something that is going on at River Plate Adventist University (UAP, in Spanish), the Adventist Church's university in Argentina. For years, UAP's authorities (the president, and two or three of his closest collaborators) have been engaged in smuggling on behalf of the university. The procedure is simple: they import some real donations from the U.S., but in the same container they add purchases that get into the country without paying taxes (which are quite expensive here). Over the last years, they have become more and more daring. Most recently, the CIO of the university (a systems engineer) travelled to the US for a couple of weeks just to buy electronic goods. All of this might have been just anecdotal amid a generally corrupt environment (both inside and outside the church), if the media had not come accross this story. A few days ago one container coming from the U.S. was intercepted by Argentine custom officials. It supposedly contained donations, but inside the container there were all kind of products (mainly electronics) valued at about 400.000 USD.

The information provided in that email and subsequent correspondence from the same source correlated with initial reports of contraband seizure, published in La Nacion, but could not be independently verified by Spectrum. There was nothing in media reports confirming the involvement of the Seventh-day Adventist Church until today.

When asked whether there were documentation of the involvement of personnel at River Plate Adventist University with the Argentina Adventist Union, “John Doe” stated,

“There are no emails related to the issue; at least none that I have seen. The Argentine Conference's (Unión Argentina, UA) order to the UAP leaders was to keep a strict public silence regarding the issue.”

Later, in response to questions about which leaders might be involved, John Doe wrote the following:

Despite some information shared with the college's government bodies, the importat operations were managed by a small group of people. The university president, Oscar Ramos, is the main (and in many cases, the only) decision maker. Nothing is done without his knowledge and approval. He takes this issue under his personal care. Jorge De Sousa is the Vice President for Institutional Development. He is in charge of fundraising. Therefore, he spends several months every year in the U.S., he gets the donations, and he is the responsible for bringing them into Argentina. Nestor Pereyra is the university CIO, and one of the closer advisors of President Ramos, even in matters beyond IT. He makes decisions concerning technology purchasing, and in the particular case of the containers, he traveled to the U.S. for a couple of weeks to buy technology items. Then those items were loaded into the containers and introduced to the country as donations. Now, as they manage this issue with secrecy, is difficult to know what is the specific participation of each one in the case. On the other hand, the importation were made using the name of the Church's legal entity in Argentina (Asociación Argentina de los Adventistas del Séptimo Día, AAASD), and not the university's legal entity (Asociación Colegio Adventista del Plata, ACAP). So the person legally responsible is the president of AAASD, Pastor Carlos Gill. I have no way of knowing how much President Gill knew about this. Of course he is now aware of everything.

Those claims concerning potential complicity have not been independently verified; no names of Adventist leaders have been reported as of this article's publication.

Late Thursday, the Argentina Union Conference issued a press release on Facebook with the text, “Official Communiqué of the Adventist Church in Argentina,” denying any wrongdoing:

Press Release In relation to the facts that are public knowledge, the Argentina Association of Seventh-day Adventists (AAASD) said that its executives will be present before the judge in charge of the investigation in the next few hours. There actually exists a donation from the Adventist Church in the United States. Our entity is entitled to a court case and its managers and employees have attended and participated in the preliminary evidence gathering jointly with customs personnel. The unexpected judicial measure became impossible, as they were at the time of the procedures in their respective administrative offices, for their usual routines locked outside the office.

The donation included a wide variety of items, whose diversity pertains to its use in The River Plate Adventist University for training students from various departments which integrate those items--particularly in the department of health sciences, with careers such as medicine and others.

Concerning our commitment to receiving the contents, it was in accordance with a letter that in no way falls outside the laws for imports or any other activity. For these reasons, at present we are primarily interested in collaborating with the justice system to clarify this situation.

We will supply more information to the media and the public here as necessary.

Contact: Mr. Santiago Lopez Blasco - Director of Communication. (Translated from Spanish)

This is a breaking news story. Check back for updates as the story unfolds.

Jared Wright is Managing Editor of SpectrumMagazine.org.

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/7648

This could never happen to the church in North America. In the US, the church has perfected legal means of avoiding taxes through non-profit enterprises, although the gov’t occasionally slaps their hand and makes them pay back a few $100 million from improper billing practices. That would stop quickly, if like in Argentina, the gov’t would arrest a few people from time to time. I know of Adventist doctors who basically paid for their education and living expenses in Mexico by bringing back high tariff items from the US as personal undeclared imports.

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a very sad story, That is a far cry from Paul being let down from the wall in a basket. tom S

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The press release by the church will make it very difficult to blame the matter on individual culprits later on. The church squarely declares ownership of the issue at hand, and assumes that everything is fine - morally and legally. The latter remains to be seen. The former ought to be carefully wheighed. If the reports are true, there certainly is a “flavour” to them. When it comes to moral behaviour, our senses appear to be numbed to certain flavours.

Why am I no longer surprised?

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False Degrees
Church leaders had NO knowledge till came out in the Newspaper.
Same scenario, same song, how many verses??

I wonder what the tariff rate is?
Back in 1964 when I was in Honduras. If there was a car imported into Honduras and sold, the tariff rate
was 100%. If one paid $4000 for it, the tariff on it was $4000. $8000 for a $4000 vehicle.
At that time, cutting lawn with a machete all day, paid $1 US per day.

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Hasn’t this always been going on? In 1979, at AU, I remember a former missionary telling me how his colleagues would smuggle electronics and copper from Zimbabwe into South Africa. At the same time, late 70s, the Davenport scandal broke, in which church leaders had plowed personal and church funds into a pyramid scheme. As far as I remember, a disgraced GC President used to smuggle goods in the engine cowling of a small plane at his disposal when going to Central America. There is something in the water that fundamentalists drink that makes them singularly vulnerable to greed and sharp business dealings.

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It takes a certain MACHO testosterone-fueled daring to illegally smuggle in goods to avoid tariffs.

One more reason to elect FEMALE conference/Union conference personnel
It would be highly unlikely that women would practice such macho madness!

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But…they were keeping the Sabbath, right?:wink:

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I commend Jared and Spectrum for their caution in response to unverified information provided by an anonymous source. There is indeed a history of skirting the rules sometimes (“it’s for the Lord’s work” justifies it), and perhaps that is the case here. But it is also possible that the church does indeed have a legitimate explanation for the shipments and their contents. Let’s be careful about judging our friends in Argentina before the investigation is completed.

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To be fair, everyone of us has a dark side that renders any of us vulnerable to doing bad things, no one exempted. There are no saints among us. What separates the good men from the bad men is not of a kind but the degree of ability to control and suppress that particular dark force. As a well-known forensic psychiatrist reinterpreted Paul’s I Corinthians 15:10, “There, but for the grace of good defenses (coping skills), go I.” Religion can serve as a double-edged sword in that it can assist in developing strong character but can also seduce believers that we can rid ourselves of this dark force by projecting it to a repository called Satan, like our shadow that is cast ahead of us. The evidence of religion’s influence on us is how we maintain our character. As John Wooden once said, “The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching.” The task of our church is to identify members who can lead and maintain their character even when no one is watching which can almost be an impossible task.

Let’s go straight to the point, Brother. The almighty “Mordida” might have been subconsciously neglected due to excessive sense of entitlement as God’s “chosen people.”

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Everyone does have a dark side. But, in this case, was the dark side exhibited for benefit of the organization - “the Lord’s work” - or individual gain?

“I hope you’re not suggesting it makes a difference.” @Sirje In the eyes of the law, it, certainly, does not make a difference to the Argentine customs. But I think that there is a difference in exercising poor judgment in foolishly believing that one should do this for the benefit of “God’s work” vs the greed of self-gain/enrichment.

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I hope you’re not suggesting it makes a difference.

This may come as a surprise to some - Adventists have the same propensities as everyone else. The lack of ethics and morality can be found in the same proportions among SDA’s as they are in the rest of the population. That’s called human nature - it’s flawed - and the label we give ourselves THE REMNANT, doesn’t change that. While this is the case individually, one would expect that, as a group, these human weaknesses wouldn’t be used to run the church. Breaches of ethics, like this, (if it turns out that this is what it is) stand out when discovered, but the bigger, and more serious problem, never really gets spelled out - power politics, disguised as some sort of anointing - the divine right of “kings”.

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Theology often effects practice

We avoid the traditions of man in favor of the commandments of God. Import fees clearly are non-binding man-made traditions. Who knows these funds may be a way to enrich local churches, we reason? Thus, we can avoid these fees with a clear conscience when it is in the service of God and the church. The greater good. Don’t we justify speeding to arrive for church appointments? Don’t we justify working on Sabbath for medical and emergency services, when it is nothing more than another day at work? I have a friend that was required to work a couple Sabbaths year in a power generating plant for yearly maintenance. His work provided essential power to medial services and the good of humanity. You agree?

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Now, what really was going oin ? Towhose (illicit) profit ???

After WW II also the SDA church in Austria was - well - stuck in peverty. US fellow believers donated - donated - donated - in US $. The oficial exchange rate was 1 US - $ = 10.-ATS. The equal value was about 1 US -$ = 50.- ATS. The “black market rate” was 1 US -$ = ATS 100. -. !

.J. J. Aitken brought a suitcase full of Dollars in cash. I knew about it. Just a few years ago I learned that the treasure was hidden by my father in our attic.- the Russian Zonbe gave more safety than the International Zone of occupied Vienna.!

I bet you, I knew and know the Brethehren involved : None of them had one cent of personal profit ! - Just the donations of fellow believers were in toto used for the purpose of preaching the Gospel !

So what ? Endangering their lives others smuggled Bibles and literature, - or now, most probanbly - let us assume this brought equipments for evangelisation into a foreign country at reasonable, affordable costs.

Woe to those who were heading for their own private profit !

But let us wait and see !

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LACK OF PROFESSIONALISM

Elmer,

I believe this scandal erupted only because the “operation” was not conducted by smuggling professionals. Like in countless other countries, in South America smuggling is a common practice, it’s actually imbued in the culture and the hole system is set up to allow for outlawed practices - for a fee. BUT only the professionals are supposed to manage those maneuvers.

What I believe happened in Argentina was simple: those Church leaders who were in charge of smuggling the goods either 1) Had no experience or knowledge on how the system there works, or 2) They were intentionally trying to deceive the authorities aiming to avoid paying the due bribes.

Yes, in those places there is always a maneuver in place to allow smuggling. But a bribe has to be paid to those in charge of rubber stamping the import papers. Trying to fool those people usually ends up in having the Federal Police knocking on one’s, or the Church’s door…

So, I hope next time they plan for such an operation, they will first contact the professionals to figure out how much will it cost, pay the fees, I mean, bribes, and next thing they will know is that “el contrabando acaba de llegar.” (“The contraband has just arrived”)

It’s much better (and cheaper for sure) if someone comes to tell that the merchandise arrived than if they came to take one to jail for not playing by the rules! The bribes are usually set close to 40 or 50% of the legal import fees on the merchandise. Still a good deal anyway… But don’t try to fool the Feds; you may be caught doing something illegal!!! …lol

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Smuggling electronics from Zimbabwe to South Africa? I think you mean smuggling electronics from South Africa to Zimbabwe. Copper may indeed be smuggled from Zambia to South Africa but hardly likely from Zimbabwe to South Africa. Then again copper wiring could be coming from South Africa to Zimbabwe . . .

Smuggling thousands of dollars of electronic and other goods into any country under the blanket of religion - if that is the case - is reprehensible.

Materialism - aside from greed - can also be quite a problem in the SDA church. Especially where American missionaries are concerned. It is amazing how many containers come into Africa from the USA with all manner of fantastic and unheard of electronic gadgets for missionary families - I have heard comments and expressions of amazement from Africans in the mission field in that regard. Any smart African will be quick to join the SDA church in a poor African country simply because there are so many perceived material benefits in his or her sights.

It is of course no different to learning French through the French cultural centre in Blantyre - in the hope of winning a prize and being the lucky one to win a ‘cultural trip’ to Paris for a few weeks and a sort of sightseeing trip into future possibilities of entry into the European Union. So it is not only SDA converts who have a want for the better life.

Compare that to the Catholic church where you will find committed priests and nuns who give their lives to an African country - sometimes returning to their mother country once in a lifetime if they are fortunate. I am not of course saying that there are not committed SDA missionaries - there certainly are. But one cannot but notice the wonderful array of gadgets and other paraphernalia which SDA missionaries bring into mission lands. It simply does not give the right message to the local people and they come away with the distinct sense that the reward for conversion to the SDA church can sometimes bring unheard of opportunities - both economically and otherwise. I suppose a good hint of all that is found in Bull and Lockhart’s book Seventh-day Adventism and the American Dream.

And then there is the good old Amie McPherson Four Square Church - I met a missionary from that church in Malawi who was obviously not in the gadget game - sent out by a small congregation he had to struggle to make ends meet. That points to another problem - the SDA chrch is so well organised that it is hardly a sacrifice for many SDA missionaries to enter the mission field. I have an idea that much of the policies guiding the church regarding missionaries comes from the USA, where there are so many wealthy SDA’s who give liberally, making it so much less a sacrifice for missionaries to enter the mission field.

But it does go to show there is a wide gap etween the two largest mission organisations - the Catholics and SDA’s. On the one hand I see a great sense of sacrifice with a mere pittance of an allowance for the nun or priest while and on the other I find that earlier pioneer spirit is lost and perhaps gone forever?

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From a first-hand account, let me say that it is no surprise for the leadership. Everyone is in on it; it is an open secret even among the laymen. But you dare not openly say or try to fix it, lest you or loved ones who work in any way with the SDA suffer the penalty.
…And it is not just the university (UAP). Wait til they find out what the hospital and ADRA are doing!

@svrcg re comparing it Waldensians smuggling Bibles.You compare that to smuggling in personal electronics for personal use? There were giant flat screen TVs, latest in computers and consumer electronics… That is definitely not for the spreading of the Gospel. If anything, the university is niggardly with its resources and materials. When the UAP had built new classrooms more than a decade ago, the oppressive summer heat made it necessary to have some form of air conditioning. The university wanted us students to pay extra (on top of the very expensive tuition) to have ceiling fans installed!!

Hmm, you sound very much like the argentinean leadership. How well does greed and lining ones own pockets jive with Jesus whipping the money lenders in the Temple? Or giving to Cesar what is Cesar’s ? Or with “give everything you have to the poor and follow me”?
Is this is not more in line with Judas’ “that money could have been better spent for the poor”?
Would you say that defrauding Medicare is also one of those non-binding cases? Largest Medicare fraud by Florida Adventist Healthcare
How about pilfering large amounts of donations, grants and donated material for projects?

At the end of July, a relative who still lives in Libertador San Martin pointed out to me a small article in the port town where the containers where searched. While it mentioned that there was an ongoing investigation to a large non-profit organization, this relative mentioned how it was already known that it was referring to the UAP. Also, La Nacion is one of the biggest newspapers in Argentina. Hardly anonymous.
Need more? I can give more detailed accounts related to this as well as other illegal and immoral going ons. Unfortunately, I must do so anonymously to avoid reprisals to friends and family who still work in the SDA institutions (isn’t that shameful enough in itself???).
Of course, if you want me to give details, be warned that naming names and dates could offer official investigators further investigations against the argentinean SDA institutions. Since De Souza Matias has already been named, I can supply some first hand accounts of not-quite-illegal character evidence if that will help support the news’ truth.
Do you really want to know what is going on? At least MY religion survives by upholding that “the truth shall set you free”. Can yours?

For the rest of you, please forgive the bile & bitterness in the last paragraph. I had to survive a long time of observing this kind of thing and the apologists who tried to cover up these crimes, all the while grandstanding on their superior morals and religious standards. It is no surprise that the brightest and smartest avoid/leave the Adventist community due to the contradictions (to put it mildly). Hopefully now, others will stand up and expose the truth and save the SDA denomination.

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Small update:
A couple of days ago, a meeting was convened for retired institution workers in Libertador San Martin (the city where the SDA university and hospital reside). The oficial version they were told is that no one knows how undeclared materials came to be in the containers and some are being scapegoated.
Not a few apologists here and elsewhere are saying the allegations are false but the local institution admits there was contraband. Can anyone explain the discrepancy? I have always been very interested in how such arguments are constructed and supported.

In the english and spanish versions of the articles related to this topic, there have been comments to the effect that these are human traditions that need not be followed. Or implying that if the tax is oppressive, the paperwork too onerous, or everyone else is breaking the law, then it is permissible.

Now, I am sure that Christian brethren in countries like Italy and Greece will be overjoyed to hear such Good News. But how does this compare to Jesus’ example and teachings about taxes and observing local law? For those still not up to date, he lived under the very oppressive and bureaucratic Roman rule of Palestine.

Funny story about joining in activities if everyone is doing it.
I heard a number a religious class and sermon where relativism was villified in the Univ. Adventista del Plata, yet ministers and administrators brought it up often enough to excuse similar indiscretions. Seems nothing has changed…and that it happens outside of Argentina as well.

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Spectrum deleted my post on this topic, it appears, which broke a link to my post here.

Someone on this thread had mentioned the SDA organization, Members for Church Accountability.

It appears that person’s post was deleted also.

I posted a link to the MCA site, but you can easily google it, lest this post get deleted also.

@Sola_Scriptura said this, in part:

I just remembered a couple of times when speaking with intelligent non-adventists students at the Univ. Adventista del Plata, they would mention how they found the religious principles mostly good. But seeing how the people acted (they had mostly contact with adminstrators and educators) they would not even consider becoming adventist. It was way beneath their moral standards.

I responded with this (shortened now):

Here is a reader response to James Coffin’s website:

However, I’d like to share another angle of the same phenomenon: that of non-SDAs (even agnostics and atheists) who find, in the course of events, that they do business with Seventh-day Adventists—and detest the tactics used by Adventists.
http://justicedeniedjamescoffin.blogspot.com/

At some point, perhaps the metaconversation about the ethical zeitgeist prevailing in Adventism will be permitted.

It certainly seems a good time to undertake this, to me, since “mission” seems so important to all parties presently in serious conflict in Adventism.

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I have also heard a number of Adventist professionals and business owners who also said “Never do business with an Adventist.” Surely, experience is the best teacher. Many business owners and employees who cooperated with Trump discovered that he often “stiffed” them or short-changed them or worse. Most of the time, Adventists will expect a discount from another member.

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